Chosŏn Renaissance: The Decolonization of Public Space in Contemporary Seoul

Todd A. Henry, Assistant Professor in Residence, Department of History,University of California, San Diego

RSVP required by 5PM May 17

This lecture will discuss the re-creation of public spaces in contemporary Seoul, analyzed as a long-term and contested process of decolonization in the wake of 35 years of Japanese rule (1910-45). Through an opening discussion of Namsan (South Mountain), Dr. Henry will show that the recreation of the city’s colonial spaces began quickly after liberation with the erasure of Chōsen Shrine, perhaps the most violent symbol of wartime "imperialization" (1937-1945), and its subsequent replacement with various nationalist monuments, including a memorial to the turn-of-the-century martyr Ahn Chung-gŭn (1879-1910).  "Chosŏn renaissance" is the term that he has coined to capture the most recent manifestations of a decolonizing project that re-imagines Korea's last dynasty as national glory. Dr. Henry’s discussion of the ongoing restoration of Kyŏngbok Palace, once the site of the Government-General building and various colonial period expositions, will demonstrate how this monument has come to serve as Seoul's showpiece for promoting South Korean patriotism and "tradition," albeit without directly referencing the country’s tumultuous modern history. Like the newly restored Chŏnggye Stream and the recent installation of a plaza and statue memorializing King Sejong (r. 1418-50), the restoration of Kyŏngbok Palace, a project that will not be completed until 2030, aims to remind South Korean citizens and international visitors of the illustrious and independent history of the peninsula before the onset of Japanese rule and four decades of post-colonial authoritarianism.

Dr. Henry (Ph.D., UCLA, 2006) is a specialist on modern Korea with a focus on the period of Japanese rule (1910-1945). He works on the comparative and transnational study of imperialism/colonialism, gender/sexuality, and critical urban studies.  He is currently completing a book manuscript which examines the intersection of space and power in the city of colonial Seoul. 

Friday, May 20, 2011 | 12:00 pm — 1:15 pm
Philippines Conference Room, Encina Hall, 3rd Floor